One of the most common concerns for car buyers involves the possibility of purchasing a vehicle from car dealers that turns out to be a “lemon.” In Florida, the lemon law provides protection to consumers who have purchased new cars. This law is designed to protect consumers from defects or conditions that substantially impair the use, value, or safety of a new vehicle. It offers a legal recourse if the manufacturer fails to rectify the issue after a reasonable number of repair attempts.
Under the Florida lemon law, a new car is covered during the “Lemon Law Rights Period,” which is the first 24 months after the delivery date of the motor vehicle. However, a vehicle isn’t automatically considered a lemon after one or two repair attempts. A new vehicle has to have been out of service for repair of the same issue for at least 15 days or more, or, the manufacturer must have attempted to repair the same issue at least three times without success before a car owner can exercise their rights under the lemon law.
“Lemons” in Florida Law
The process of invoking rights under the lemon laws starts with the car owner reporting the issue to the manufacturer. Note that the law specifies seeking relief from car manufacturers, not car dealers, under the lemon law. A detailed report of the vehicle’s defect should be provided, and the manufacturer must be given a final opportunity to repair the car if the first few (usually three) attempts fail. If the problem remains unresolved after a reasonable number of attempts, the consumer can request a state arbitration by the Florida New Motor Vehicle Arbitration Board.
This board, appointed by the Florida Attorney General, reviews the case and, if the vehicle is deemed a lemon, it orders the manufacturer to buy back the vehicle or replace it with one of equivalent value. It’s essential to note that the decision of the Motor Vehicle Arbitration Board is binding on the manufacturer, but not on the consumer, who can still seek relief through the courts if dissatisfied with the board’s decision.
Does the Federal Cooling Off Period Apply?
Understandably, many car buyers have expressed the wish to return a car shortly after purchasing it, particularly if they are dissatisfied with their purchase. However, contrary to popular belief, the federal cooling-off rule does not apply to car purchases.
The federal law rule applies when you buy or rent things as a consumer, if the thing purchased or rented is worth at least $25, and only if it’s not being purchased or rented at a regular store where the seller usually does business. Obviously, most people buy cars from a dealership, which is where the seller usually does business.
Federal laws about cooling off also don’t apply to things like insurance, stocks and bonds, and arts and crafts sold at fairs; and, crucially for this discussion of how to return a car, if you’re buying a car but at a temporary location – like an auto show – the rule doesn’t apply there, either.
Florida Law on Returning a Car
Florida law does not have a specific provision for returning a new car if there’s nothing wrong with it. However, the state does have the Florida lemon law that protects consumers from vehicles with significant defects. So, if you find yourself stuck with a lemon, you can use the lemon law to resolve the issue.
But if you simply regret your new car purchase and wish to return a vehicle without any underlying defects or issues, you are, unfortunately, out of luck in most cases. The sales contract for a new car purchase is legally binding, and the dealership is under no legal obligation to allow the return of motor vehicles simply due to buyer’s remorse on the part of a vehicle owner. Some dealerships may offer a limited return policy, but this is at the dealer’s discretion and not a legal requirement under Florida law.
In the long run, being an informed consumer is the best way to protect your investment and potentially save you time and money.
What If My Car Has a New Car Warranty?
A new car warranty, often referred to as a manufacturer’s warranty, is a promise by the vehicle manufacturer that they will repair certain defects or malfunctions in the vehicle for a specific period of time. In Florida, the lemon law applies to defects or conditions covered by the manufacturer’s warranty, so the presence of a warranty is crucial. The legal requirement is that the manufacturer conform the vehicle to the warranty.
The warranty serves as a contract between the buyer and the manufacturer. If a defect is found within the warranty period, the manufacturer must repair the defect at no cost to the consumer. If the manufacturer is unable to fix the vehicle after a reasonable number of attempts, the lemon law protections come into effect.
Under Florida’s lemon law, if the vehicle remains unfixed, the manufacturer is required to replace the defective vehicle with a new one or refund the full purchase price to the consumer. However, it’s worth noting that the manufacturer can charge a reasonable offset for use before the first repair attempt that qualifies under the lemon law.
What If I Think the Dealership Ripped Me Off?
One of the biggest fears is the feeling of being taken advantage of or “ripped off.” This can occur when a dealership sells a vehicle at a price significantly higher than its market value, misrepresents the vehicle’s condition or features, or includes unnecessary fees or services in the contract.
If you feel that you have been unfairly treated by a car dealership, Florida law provides several consumer protection statutes to protect you. These laws make it illegal for dealerships to engage in deceptive or unfair trade practices, such as misrepresenting the vehicle’s condition or hiding crucial information about the vehicle’s history.
However, it’s important to thoroughly read and understand the sales contract before signing. The contract is legally binding once signed, and it can be challenging to dispute the terms afterward. Always consult with a legal expert if you are unsure about any terms or conditions in any contract.
If the Salesperson Wasn’t Honest
In some instances, a salesperson may not be entirely truthful about a vehicle’s condition or may withhold pertinent information that could impact the car’s value. If a salesperson wasn’t honest with you, it’s important to know your rights and the steps you can take to address the situation.
In Florida, dealerships are required by law to disclose certain information about the vehicle, such as any known mechanical issues, if it has a salvaged title, or if the vehicle was previously used as a rental. If a salesperson lied or failed to disclose these facts, you might have a case for fraud or misrepresentation.
In such situations, you might be able to rescind the purchase contract and get your money back. Legal remedies could also include the dealership compensating you for the difference between the price you paid and the actual value of the car. If you find yourself in this predicament, consult with a legal professional right away to understand the best course of action.
How to Avoid Buyer’s Remorse on New Car Purchases
Buyer’s remorse often kicks in after a big purchase. To avoid such a scenario, it’s crucial to conduct thorough research before a new car purchase.
Do Your Research
Begin by identifying your needs, budget, and preferences. Research various car models, manufacturers, and dealerships to understand what options are available and how they align with your requirements.
Don’t Skip the Test Drive
A test drive is an invaluable tool that allows you to assess the car’s handling, comfort, and performance firsthand. Never skip this step or allow a seller to convince you it isn’t necessary.
Know the WHOLE Cost
Another significant aspect to consider is the car’s total cost, including insurance, maintenance, and fuel costs, not just the sticker price. These additional expenses can significantly impact the overall affordability of the vehicle in the long run.
Shop around for everything. Both new and used car buyers should “shop around” for a car loan, for example. Remember that banks won’t approve a loan if they think you’re getting ripped off, so this can protect you. Shop around for the right new or used vehicle, for the best extended warranties, for money-back guarantees if available, and for everything else involved in the process to ensure you get a fair deal.
Don’t rush into a car purchase. Take the time to review the contract thoroughly. If you don’t understand something, ask for clarification. A hurried decision might lead to regret later as you find yourself calling the lemon law hotline.
How to Check for a Fair Price
Online resources can provide a wealth of information about the average price of new and used cars based on make, model, year, and condition. Websites like Kelly Blue Book can help determine the market value of a car and can be a powerful tool during price negotiations.
In addition to checking online resources, shop around and compare prices. Some dealerships may offer promotions or incentives that can lead to significant savings. However, be wary of prices that seem too good to be true. A price considerably lower than the average could be a red flag indicating possible issues with the vehicle.
A Special Note on Online Car Dealerships and Their Return Policies
Online car dealerships are becoming increasingly popular due to their convenience and often vast selection. But, just like traditional dealerships, online car dealers are not required by Florida state law or any federal requirements to offer a return policy unless stipulated in the purchase contract.
Some online dealerships do offer return policies, but these vary widely. Some may offer a “no questions asked” return within a certain timeframe, while others might have more restrictive policies. Be sure to read and understand the return policy before completing your purchase.
Purchasing a new car is a significant investment, and careful consideration should be given to ensure you are making the best choice for your needs and budget. Your rights as a buyer are protected under Florida law, and if you think you’ve been saddled with a lemon, there is something you can do. Call Jonathan D. Schwartz, Lemon Lawyer, at 786-767-6964 for a free case evaluation right away.